Billionaires Ignore The CFL

Steve ThompsonAnalyst IIIJuly 22, 2009

TORONTO - NOVEMBER 25:  Mike Abou-Mechrek #67 of the Saskatchewan Rough Riders hoists the Grey Cup in celebration of a 23-19 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the 95th Grey Cup on November 25, 2007 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

A month ago, I wrote an article about Jim Balsillie trying for an NHL franchise only to be rebuffed, instead of trying for a CFL team whose commissioner and board of governors would welcome him with open arms.

Now it has been reported that the head of Quebecor (the company which is big in media, including owning the Sun media chain), Pierre Karl Peladeau, failed to purchase the Montreal Canadians, and now wants to follow Balsillie and get a hockey franchise back for Quebec City.

Great news for hockey fans. There has been a petition signed by 80,000 fans asking for the return of their team. Peladeau finally puts a face to an investment bid for getting a team back in Quebec. The only quibble is that Peladeau wants more partners in order to build a new NHL-size arena, which is estimated to cost $300 million.

This would be great for Quebec Nordique hockey fans. Quebec, with a proper arena, would be a sure-fire winner, and because it has no territorial issue, would immediately leap ahead of Hamilton and Winnipeg as the best place for NHL expansion in Canada.

The NHL would also probably favor going back to a city where it had some success in the past if it finally built a proper arena.

First, it has to get past Gary Bettman, the alliance in the board of governors between ignorant and hostile American owners, and Canadian owners who don't want to share tv money.

It will be a tough nut to crack. Which brings us to the CFL.

Why do all these Canadian billionaires and millionaires ignore the CFL? Why don't they have any faith in it, like they have for the NHL?

The CFL has been talking about getting more than nine Canadian franchises since before I was born.

In my very first article, I said that Quebec, London, and Kitchener were cities that the league could gamble on in the short term (ie. expand to within the next five years), and that Windsor, Oshawa, Victoria, and Halifax were long-term possibilities; followed by other up-and-coming cities in the very long-term.

The two biggest problems are stadiums and ownership.

All through late spring and summer, we have been deluged with tales of Balsillie and other rich Canadians going after Phoenix, Atlanta, or some other failed American NHL franchise, with the intention of either moving it across the border, or trying to make it work in a failed environment.

But none of these rich investors ever consider the CFL. The CFL is getting back Ottawa next year, and would welcome new investment in Canada with open arms.

The franchise fee would be peanuts compared to entering the NHL and building a new stadium, and could be a fraction of the cost of the ultra-modern arena that the NHL wants.

Winnipeg's new 30,000 seat stadium will cost $100 million, one-third of the cost of a new hockey arena. 

Kitchener, Quebec, and London all have strong university football teams at Laurier, Laval, and Western, so football would hardly be a strange sport to fans, like hockey is in some southern American cities.

But nobody with money has any faith in the CFL. The last owner to do so was the American owner of Shreveport, who wanted to continue in the CFL, but was left in the lurch when the American franchises were folded.

If only he could have been persuaded to transfer the Pirates to another Canadian city and build a proper stadium, minimum 25,000 seats.

The only other expansion that has been mentioned has been to the United States, now that NFL Europe has folded. Rochester (a large city wanting in major professional sports franchises) and Detroit (which should be located across the river and named Windsor) were mentioned.

So what is the problem?

First, investors saw the folding of the Montreal and Ottawa franchises, and back away.

But I think more could be done by the commissioner and the board of governors. Commissioners, both in the past and present, travel around Canada visiting unfranchised cities. They say how great the city is, and how the CFL would love to have a franchise there, and little else.

More should be done. Has Commissioner Cohon contacted Peladeau and Balsillie about investing in the CFL? Does he know any other investors, both in Canada and abroad, who could be persuaded to operate an expansion team in Canada?

And what about the board of governors? Don't they have rich friends who might consider joining them? Have they heard of networking?

Of course, in the present recession, everyone is going to be ultra-conservative, but since governments and other investors want to prop up failed auto-makers and other troubled businesses, why not take a chance in a sports league?

The CFL is cheaper to operate in than most of the other leagues, and it might make a buck in places it hasn't been tried yet.


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